The Wind (1928) – Nov 27 USA – ballroom scene (with Montagu Love)
Director: Victor Sjöström
Writers: Frances Marion (scenario) Dorothy Scarborough (from the novel by)
It was one of the last silent films released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and is considered one of the greatest silent films. Lillian Gish came up with the idea of making a film adaption of the novel of the same name. Irving Thalberg immediately gave her permission to do so. Gish recalled wanting Lars Hanson as her leading man, she also assigned Victor Sjöström as the director herself. Sjöström directed Gish before in the 1926 movie The Scarlet Letter. The Wind is considered to be a classic, and one of Gish’s most brilliant performances. It is the last silent film starring Gish, the last directed by Sjostrom, and the last major silent released by MGM.
At its time it was simultaneously panned and hailed by American critics, and its late release at the dawn of the sound era contributed to a net loss for the production. However, the film had significant critical and considerable commercial success in Europe. The British newspaper, The Guardian, in 1999 reviewed the work of director Victor Sjöström and they wrote, “And in America his three most famous works – He Who Gets Slapped (1924), The Scarlet Letter (1926) and The Wind (1928) – each dealt with human suffering. The Wind is almost certainly the best – a silent classic, revived in recent years by producer/director Kevin Brownlow with a Carl Davis score, which gave the great Lillian Gish one of the finest parts of her career…
Sjostrom treats the inevitable clash between Letty and her new surroundings with considerable realism and detail, allowing Gish as much leeway as possible to develop her performance. The entire film was shot in the Mojave Desert under conditions of great hardship and difficulty and this was probably the first ‘Western’ that tried for truth as well as dramatic poetry. One of its masterstrokes, which looks far less self-conscious than any description of it may seem, is the moment when Letty hallucinates in terror at the sight of the partially buried body of her attacker.” The wind in the film was created by the propellers of eight aircraft stationed on location in the Mojave Desert. The airplane propellers blowing hot air, sand and smoke were so dangerous that crew members were forced to wear long-sleeved clothing, eye goggles, bandannas around their necks and greasepaint on their faces whenever the machines were being run. The average temperature for the location and season where the movie was filmed is between 90-105 and the record highs are around 115 degrees Fahrenheit.
During filming, high temperatures made life miserable for both cast and crew. The intense heat caused the film stock to warp, and it had to be packed in ice to remain intact. Lillian Gish claimed that she touched an outside door handle, and was so severely burned that a small part of her palm’s flesh was scalded off. Lillian Gish … Letty Lars Hanson … Lige Montagu Love … Roddy Dorothy Cumming … Cora Edward Earle … Beverly William Orlamond … Sourdough Carmencita Johnson … Cora’s Child Leon Janney … Cora’s Child (as Laon Ramon) Billy Kent Schaefer … Cora’s Child
In 1928 Gish came up with the idea for a screen version of Dorothy Scarborough’s novel The Wind. It told the tale of a young Virginia girl, Letty, who naively moves west to live with her favorite cousin, Beverly, and his wife, Cora. A jealous Cora banishes Letty from the prairie homestead. The ouster drives the helpless young woman into relationships with rabid, pursuing men—one of whom lures her into an unwanted marriage. Another aggressor rapes her and in self-defense she shoots and kills him.
Gish wrote a brief synopsis of Scarborough’s novel and gave it to the acclaimed scenarist Frances Marion who fleshed it out into a screenplay. Again Gish, who played Letty, asked that Victor Seastrom direct. She said in her memoirs that working with Seastrom on The Scarlet Letter “was a great education for me … (discovering how) the Swedish school of acting is one of repression.”
The result of the second Gish-Seastrom collaboration was that The Wind would be silent cinema’s last great masterpiece. Marion’s script begins as a near comic burlesque as a genteel Eastern girl is exposed to the coarse ways of life on a Texas prairie. But that humor soon gives way to the almost hysterical realities that Letty encounters in a world that is physically, emotionally and environmentally hostile. Letty is warned on the train ride west that the wind and sandstorms on the prairie could be harsh and unrelenting, and the seed is sown. The Dust Bowl elements as conjured up by Seastrom externalize Letty’s growing anxiety and mental disintegration. Just as she cannot quell her anguish, neither can she stop the sand from seeping through the door and windows of the little shack she shares with a husband who has kindly refrained from forcing her into “the marriage bed.”
As the film advances toward its violent conclusion, the winds outside howl with unrelenting furor, tying the film’s emotional crescendos to the forces of nature. The Wind is an admixture of eroticism, isolation, mental anguish, and violence—conveyed metaphorically as an unforgiving elemental storm. The screening at the Bird’s Eye View came with a rousing live piano accompaniment that added its own impact to the turbulent story.
Source: review by Frank Beaver – film historian and critic and Arthur F. Thurnau Professor Emeritus of Film, Television, and Media at U-M.
Photoplay, November-1927, The Wind, review